Since the studio’s first film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was released more than eighty years ago, Disney’s animated features have always focused on those who don’t fit in. Being different often leads to isolation and a sense that there is no one else with the same feelings and problems in the world, which is almost never the case. Over the many decades since Disney has released its sixty notable feature animated productions, there has been an increasing awareness that the audience watching its movies would appreciate seeing themselves represented on screen. Its latest film, Encanto, delivers all that’s expected from a Disney classic while expanding its exploration of cultures and identities.
Audiences are welcomed into this film’s spectacular universe with a fairy tale about the magic that saved a young woman, Alma Madrigal, fleeing persecution with her three babies, Julieta, Pepa, and Félix. A candle burns bright, powering the house with incredible abilities matched only by the remarkable talents given to each of the Madrigal family members in a community ceremony. Julieta can heal others through food, Pepa controls the weather, and Félix can see the future. Their children have gifts too, all but Julieta’s youngest daughter Mirabel, whose ceremony results in disappointment and a worry that she does not belong.
Anyone who has seen a Disney movie will know that Mirabel surely holds the key to the family’s survival, which does turn out to be the case when she is the only one able to see that the magic is fading. Knowing the general direction of the narrative isn’t a detriment since watching an affirming and heartwarming story play out is part of the fun, and there’s plenty of that to go around here. An added bonus is that this is a musical, one featuring fantastic music from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has had a banner year with songs in In the Heights and Vivo and directing duties on tick, tick, BOOM!
What is particularly endearing and effective about Miranda’s work here is that the songs he has written helped to shine a light on the individuality of each of the characters, and how their powers, like the ability to talk to animals or super-strength, define them. Each musical number is more marvelous than the one before it, and complimenting the music is wondrous, beautiful animation that embraces the colors and spirit of Colombia, where the film’s story takes place.
The film’s voice cast delights, and a handful of them also provide voices for the Spanish-language version of the film. Stephanie Beatriz embodies Mirabel with an inspiring sense of self, one that will be tremendously inviting to viewers of all ages. John Leguizamo is superb as Félix, the other misunderstood member of the family whose visions of a doomed future frighten his relatives and cause him to flee from the home at a young age. A talented group including Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama, and María Cecilia Boter ensure an enjoyable experience for all, simulating a real family with all of its intricacies and issues.
There is something simultaneously familiar and fresh about Encanto, which easily takes its place among the list of Disney hits that will enthrall children – and adults – for generations to come. Its onscreen magic is infectious, and it’s difficult not to be drawn in immediately by its allure. Like its protagonist Mirabel, even without its unbelievable magic, this film is still charming and delightful, enhancing a story of typical family relationships with energy and excitement. Just like other Disney classics, so many watching will surely see a piece of themselves in any number of the characters and appreciate the warmth and wonder that radiates from every aspect of this film.
Encanto is playing exclusively in theaters.